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Spotlight: Marshawn Lynch

posted by Heath Cummings on Jul 8th


Heath Cummings's thoughts

2011 was a microcosm of Marshawn Lynch's NFL career; feast or famine. Lynch started off the year with just one touchdown and averaged 3.1 yards per carry in the first quarter of the season. After a solid game against the Giants and an absolute stinker (16 carries, 24 yards) against the Bengals, Lynch went on a tear that propelled him into the category of elite running backs, and earned him a 4 year-$31 million dollar contract in the offseason. Over his last 9 games, Lynch averaged nearly 4.6 yards per carry and scored ten total touchdowns.

When looking at the 26-year old's career, you find the same peaks and valleys, making it really hard to predict what will happen in 2012. Twice in five years he's topped 1,100 yards and twice he's scored eight TDs or more. The same number of times he's failed to reach even 750 yards. When you look deeper into the numbers though, you find that his production per carry has been relatively consistent, as Lynch has averaged between 3.8 and 4.2 yards per carry every season but one.

Despite the inconsistency, Lynch delivered by far his best season as a pro in 2011. He set career highs in:

  • Carries- 285
  • Rushing yards - 1204
  • Rushing touchdowns - 12
  • Yards per carry - 4.2
  • Total yards - 1416

Those totals were enough to earn him a top five ranking in standard scoring leagues last season, but not enough to lead to top five projections for 2012. One of the reasons is that it's very rare for a running back to put up a career year in his fifth year and them improve upon, or even match, those totals the following season. Regression to the mean suggests he will take at least a small step back in 2012, as do several other factors.

The Seahawks offseason proved to be a mixed bag for Lynch as they added Matt Flynn but subtracted Robert Gallery. While it remains to be seen what type of positive impact Flynn can have on the passing game, the loss of Gallery from a line that was already questionable at best cannot be seen as a good thing. While offensive line guru Tom Cable's zone blocking schemes could mitigate some of the damage, Lynch will have to continue to be one of the best in the league at making tacklers miss if he's going to come close to matching last year's success.

It's also still unclear how much Matt Flynn will help the offense. While we expect Flynn will win out over Tarvaris Jackson, he's only started two NFL games and the weapons he'll have in Seattle don't exactly mirror what he had to work with in Green Bay. If this quarterback battle lingers into training camp and it becomes evident that Flynn offers no real advantage at quarterback, Lynch could face eight and nine man fronts on most downs.

Lynch faces more questions than any other Top 5 running back from 2011. Just as the Seahawks offense seems one dimensional, so is Lynch's overall game. He's topped 28 catches just once in his NFL career, and that was way back in 2008. His lack of productivity in the passing game could leave room for rookie Robert Turbin or veteran Leon Washington to steal some of his third down action and lead to even fewer receptions in 2012.

While he has given us no reason to question his character since his days in Buffalo, there are plenty of people wondering if his big pay day will change that. Even if he doesn't intentionally take his foot off the pedal now that he's been paid you have to wonder how much of his "Beast Mode" mentality came from wanting to prove doubters wrong and earn a big contract? With $18 million guaranteed in his pocket, it wouldn't be unreasonable to think at least some of that attitude may be missing.

Positives

  • Lynch is right in the middle of what should be the prime of his career. At 26 years old, with only two seasons of 260+ carries, there is no reason to believe age or wear and tear will be a concern
  • Lynch plays in an offense that will feature the run, and is one of the few true feature backs, meaning that barring injury he should expect 260-280 carries again in 2012
  • Lynch has shown the ability to make big plays out of nothing and has finished among the league leaders in broken tackles the last two seasons

Negatives

  • It's easy to wonder whether Lynch's new contract will result in a slightly less hungry running back. His greatest attribute was his refusal to go down, and many running backs lose that once they get paid
  • The Seahawks offensive line, while not great in 2011 could be even worse in 2012
  • The Seahawks do not show much promise of developing a balanced attack. No matter how good Lynch is at breaking tackles, if he doesn't get some help from Matt Flynn and the passing game he could have even more poor performances like he did against the Bengals and Bears in 2011

Final thoughts

With a questionable offensive line and the motivation of a new contract gone, it's difficult to see Lynch matching his production from 2011. His schedule, while not overly daunting, does provide enough of a challenge to rank it in the lower half of the league. Even so, the Seahawks will undoubtedly lean heavily on Lynch and he will provide a solid, if not consistent, low RB1 option throughout the season in standard leagues. More so than your average RB1, expect standout weeks against lesser opponents, and absolute duds when the Seahawks face a stout run defense.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

mjr said:

I think some people are expecting Lynch to mail it in after his big payday at least in some small association to Chris Johnson's situation just last year. If CJ played up to his potential in 2011, I think fewer people would expect it of Lynch in 2012. He was somewhat a disgruntled RB in Buffalo those years ago, but I don't think that should justify any probability he's the type to give up once he gets what he wants.

Anyway, Seattle finished up with 444 rushing attempts last year, which put them 15th amoungst the league. Only 89 of those (20%) were for 1st downs. With the 'Hawks getting 30% of their 1sts via passing, it shows that there were probably more 3rd and longs than desired. Though I don't expect the world of Flynn, I think he can get this team into more than the 509 passing attempts from last year, and while that might lead to a few less carries for Marshawn, I also think Flynn can produce a few more 3rd and short situations than Jackson did, which I can see Lynch getting a few more carries for the short gains despite some reports stating Seattle wants to scale back Lynch's carries to keep him healthy (sometimes it just doesn't work out that way). As a result, I would expect Lynch's ypc average to drop slightly from 4.2 to maybe 4.0 or 3.9. I think with 30-40 less carries that would put him at around the 1000 mark, + or- 75 yards or so.

Seattle's passing attack had about a 60% completion rate in 2011, and while I think Flynn should eventually lock up the starting job, I don't expect to see drastic improvements in the stat. With maybe a few more passing TDs as a possibility, I think Lynch matching or exceeding his 12 from last year will be a little more difficult to do if things actually pan out for the better in the QB department. 8-10 Tds is about what I expect of Lynch.

I'll say 1050 yards/9 TDs with a few more receptions at 35 and 255 yards with 2 scores.

kutta said:

If the passing game improves, that should help free up room for Lynch. 8 in the box won't be so prevalent, so his YPC should actually increase. Look at the top RB's. They all have pretty good passing games with above average QB's. They don't completely focus on the passing game (like GB, NO, and NE do) and the passing game is good enough to keep defenses honest:

Arian Foster - Matt Schaub is pretty good and Andre is a huge threat.
Ray Rice - Flacco is unspectacular but decent. Passing game is good enough to keep defenses honest.
McCoy - Vick has Maclin and Jackson to keep defenses out of the box, and McCoy benefits from that.

I would most liken the Seattle situation with Flynn to Baltimore. Decent passing game that is not going to be the focus of the offense. It will be good enough though to keep defenses out of the box. This should free up much more room for Lynch.

ZWK said:

Lynch's biggest problem, for his first year and a half in Seattle, was that the Seahawks kept getting blown out and so he didn't get the ball. In 2010 (as I discussed here), he played 14 games for Seattle (playoffs included), and in 7 of those games Seattle was down by double digits by halftime. He averaged 9/28/0.0 rushing in those 7 games. In the other 7 games, he averaged 18/73/1.0.

Last year, for the first half of the season it looked like more of the same. In 4 of Lynch's first 6 games, Seattle was down by double digits at halftime. He averaged 11/23/0.5 in those 4 games, and 16/86/0.5 in the other 2. But then Seattle turned it around (partly because of easier opponents, partly their defense, partly their OL, and partly Lynch himself). Over the rest of the season they were in every game - they only trailed at halftime twice (both by 7 points), and in both of those games they caught back up in the 2nd half. Lynch averaged 23/105/1.0 over his last 9 games, and had 19+ carries in every single one of them.

Some of the causality is in the other direction - when Lynch gets bottled up then Seattle falls behind, and when he plays well that they at least keep it close. But a lot of it is that Seattle has to abandon the run when they fall behind, and they switch to their receiving RBs (so Lynch doesn't get extra receptions to make up for his lack of carries). If Seattle is good enough to stay in every game, Lynch could lead the league in carries this year (and get the yards and TDs to go with them). If they're not, he could disappear for long stretches.


Marshawn Lynch projections

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